Friday, March 20, 2015

Big Brother of the Climate Crisis

There was a certain desperate humor--gallows humor maybe--in the stories about Florida's rabid right governor Rick Scott forbidding state employees from murmuring the words "climate change."

Yes, it's outrageous and deserves investigation.  And yes, such policies are not unknown in other states.

But a new story has emerged that takes this over the line into Big Brother territory, into an actual and consequential action of the Thought Police.

When an employee of the Florida environmental protection who says he "didn't get the memo" about the ban, used the term "climate change" in a report on a coastal managers forum where climate change was discussed, he was sent home for two days.  And he was told he had to receive a mental health evaluation from his doctor before he was allowed to return to work.  Because only a dangerous and deluded maniac would say the forbidden words, and have the forbidden thoughts.

Forget the irony that we're all talking about "climate change" instead of the climate crisis because the media has been successfully lobbied by Frank Lunz, the Republican-paid pollster, who thought the term up as a way of neutering the issue.  Now even their neutral substitute of "climate change" is heresy.

This is an incident that can't be permitted to just disappear.  Sending dissidents to mental health prisons is the obvious next step in the Stalinization of Florida.   This has to be stopped now.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Water Water Nowhere

Update: Famiglietti disagrees with the implications of the "one year of water left" headline (see the precision of his quote in what follows--the one year refers to reservoirs), and other experts agree that California is not going to run out of water completely in the next few years.  However, in another followup story, PBS Newshour focused on the dire groundwater situation--with implications for the nation's food supply.  Meanwhile, the reliable NPR has a brief story on the CA drought bill.  And respected reporter Dan Walters asks the tough questions about the CA response and the future.

When it comes to stark headlines, this one is pretty high up there: California Has One Year of Water Left.  It was the result of an oped in the LA Times by Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Lab.  The gist:
"Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain."

Right on cue, Governor Jerry Brown announced a $1 billion package to address the ongoing drought, sent to the legislature today.  According to the official governor's office page, here's what it does: The legislation includes more than $1 billion for local drought relief and infrastructure projects to make the state's water infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events. The package accelerates $128 million in expenditures from the Governor's budget to provide direct assistance to workers and communities impacted by drought and to implement the Water Action Plan. It also includes $272 million in Proposition 1 Water Bond funding for safe drinking water and water recycling and accelerates $660 million from the Proposition 1E for flood protection in urban and rural areas.

I have no expertise in this area, but it does sound to me as if even this proposal is still about staying in emergency mode, though maybe a little money could be set aside for some fearsome rain dances.  Again I can't evaluate it except in terms of its characteristically vague bureaucratic language, but there is something called a California water action plan, 

I'm not sure it adequately addresses either the long term or short term emergency, but if all this gets the state conversation into high gear, we may get down to brass tacks.  Some of the issues involved (and facts in contention) are suggested not only in this Newsweek article about the oped and what it means, but in the comments.

 It seems for instance that the issues of water use by agriculture and other industries need to be more forthrightly addressed, which will happen only if citizens form a countervailing power strong enough to force that to happen.  But if it can happen anywhere, it's California.

If taken literally, the warning of one year of water left is tantamount to previewing Armageddon in twelve month's time. Maybe the very idea of running out of water in a year will focus attention, though it could seem so over-the-top that people back away from it.  I know for instance that up here in the north country we've got more than a year's supply, though maybe not much more, after this year's non-winter.  In any case, the age of climate crisis consequences has definitely arrived in California.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Smoke of Climate War

Merchants of Doubt is a new documentary by Robert Kenner that explores the climate crisis denial industry.  As the Washington Post describes it: "The germ of Kenner’s latest project, a simultaneously entertaining and inciting exposé of professional charlatanism — practiced, most saliently, by those hired to make the case that global warming isn’t real, or at least that there is no scientific consensus on it..."

Kenner sees his film as arriving as the tide may be turning against the deniers, at least in the mainstream:

 “I think your paper is far less inclined to show deniers on the op-ed page these days,” he says. “That’s a big change, because they were being published continually. The fact is, that confused people, and that was a big part of the problem.”

According to Kenner, change will come, but not from those shouting at the edges of the argument. Rather, it will grow out of the confused middle, where films such as “Food, Inc.” and “Merchants of Doubt” shine light on hidden, and uncomfortable, truths.

“You’re never going to convert a third of the people right away,” he says. “But as with the civil rights movement, you don’t go to Bull Connor and say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to change your mind.’ You change the people around Bull Connor, and then Bull Connor has to change. You change the culture.”

Polls are showing the reality is sinking in, which makes going after deniers directly more plausible, especially if you are trying to reinforce existing political support and expand it through changing cultural norms of acceptance.  The Obama-inspired organization OFA is currently concentrating on "exposing" deniers.

We may be where we were maybe 20 years ago in the smoking wars.  Big Tobacco had its highly paid flacks, their agents of confusion, and they were becoming identified as such as laws were being passed to limit and then end smoking in public places.  When the cultural change came, it was in terms of absence.  The tobacco promoters went more or less underground, off the grid, and mostly international.  They were on the other side of the mainstream consensus.

But such change in the climate crisis won't come without heavily funded opposition. The film apparently focuses especially on one such agent of doubt and chaos, named Marc Morano.  Somehow I got on his emailing list when he was working for James Inhofe, the fully paid-for chief denier in the US Senate leadership.  His emails go directly to the spam bucket, but I did notice his latest one.  He quoted characterizations of himself in reviews of this film, all very negative: that he was despicable, satanic etc.  Clearly he was very proud of this.

So ego helps make him a happy warrior.  In this era when a unique brand virtually guarantees employment and power, especially with the monied rabid right, he's delighted to have this niche pretty much to himself.  Plus he doesn't have to do anything directly threatening to his life, like smoking cigarettes for show.  He may well live out his life dodging any inconvenient disasters caused by the climate crisis.  But not even money is likely to fully protect his children (if any.)

Morano refers to his opponents as "warmists."  That's really the key to what he does.  Sounding  like communist or fascist, it's a bit undone by the warmth of it, but it still makes the basic rabid right point: Accepting the realities of the climate crisis is an ideology--a political ideology--allied with other non-"conservative" ideologies and partisan politics.

The rabid right sees everything through its ideology, and any purported fact that doesn't fit within its ideology is false for just that reason.  And if the rabid right takes that attitude towards their own worldview, then they assume that everyone else does, too.  Everything is ideology, plain and simple.

Those kind of deniers will never give in to reality.  They will remain dangerous because they are deep within the infrastructure of one of two major political parties, and because they are funded by extremely wealthy ideologues and those whose fortunes depend on fossil fuel industries for their insane increase.

Eventually they will be undermined by cultural consensus.  How long that takes, and what's done in the meantime anyway to address the causes and consequences of the climate crisis, will likely determine the fate of contemporary civilization.